Singapore gears up to be Asean gateway for German firms

Minister S Iswaran visiting the Singapore country booth at the Hannover Messe industrial tech fair in the German city. The Hannover Messe is the world's largest industrial technology fair.
APRIL 26, 2018 - 6:00 AM

[Singapore] SINGAPORE is positioning itself as a gateway for German firms looking to tap business opportunities in Asean, as the region looks set to become an economic force in Asia.

Germany already has a strong contingent of companies in Singapore, but there are still opportunities for their small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - known as Mittelstand - to break into the Asean region, said Minister of Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran on Wednesday.

In his keynote speech at the Asean Forum 2018 held at the Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology fair, he described Asean as a key growth engine in Asia.

With a population exceeding 600 million and a gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion, it is projected to grow further for the rest of the decade, he said.

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Despite relatively uncertain global trade conditions, he told the audience that Asean "continues to be resolute in its commitment to economic integration".

"We want to integrate the region to offer a compelling alternative to what you might find in China or India and in some of the other larger economies of the world," he said.

And with Singapore assuming the chairmanship of Asean this year, a key focus will be on the digital economy. Not only will this be a new platform for growth, it will enable Asean to "unlock the potential" of its SMEs. They will be able to access distant markets at a relatively low cost, and be able to work in collaboration with partners from other parts of the world, the minister said.

"Our efforts in Industry 4.0 in the digitalisation of the manufacturing sector have gathered significant momentum … Many of our Asean member states are already focused on this."

They have different approaches, but the objective is the same - which is to gear up industries such as manufacturing for the future, he said.

And while it might be a challenge for some Asean SMEs to attend an event like the Hannover Messe to network and pick up best practices, they need not fret - the trade show will be headed to Singapore in October, said Mr Iswaran.

In a boost for both Singapore and the region, the city-state will be hosting the Asia-Pacific edition of the Hannover Messe for the first time.

Called Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (ITAP) and billed as the flagship advanced-manufacturing event in Asia, the fair will be a showcase for emerging technologies; it will also be a platform for global thought leaders and key industry stakeholders to exchange ideas and build new partnerships.

Melissa Ow, deputy chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, said: "Cutting-edge events like this reinforce Singapore's position as Asia's leading business hub and boost our reputation for thought leadership and innovation."

Deutsche Messe, the owner and organiser of the Hannover Messe, will be partnering with SingEx Group to bring the event to Singapore.

Some 60 per cent of ITAP's 20,000 sq m of floor space has already been booked; a third of the companies which have done so come from Singapore.

Local firms that will be exhibiting their products and technologies include ST Engineering, 3D printing firm Creatz3D and automation system provider Astech. Global names that have committed include Emerson Automation Solutions and Pepperl+Fuchs. The event is expected to attract more than 200 exhibiting companies and more than 10,000 attendees from over 30 countries.

In separate remarks to the media, Mr Iswaran said the trade show will be "significant" for SMEs in Singapore and the region, as they will be able to plug into an event where the best solutions-providers and best practices are on display.

He also said that ITAP will be an opportunity to get workers on board.

"When we talk about digitalisation, there's always - quite understandably - some anxiety from workers on what it means for their jobs and their future," he said.

But while there will be an impact on work as it is being done today, there will also be new kinds of jobs opening up that workers can prepare themselves for, through learning initiatives like SkillsFuture, he added.

Advanced manufacturing or Industry 4.0 combines machines with digital technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence to create what is known as a "smart factory". It is identified as a key driver of Singapore's future economic growth.